Initial overnight ratings have come in for Doctor Who’s highly anticipated return this past weekend in “The Star Beast,” and it’s good news for the show: numbers are way, way up, even if they’re also way, way down compared to where the show used to be. But, for good reason!
The Radio Times reports that “The Star Beast” clocked in initial overnight viewing figures—specifically those who watched the episode as it broadcast live on BBC One this past Saturday—of 5.08 million, making it the largest debut for a drama program in the UK this year. Even then, Doctor Who was actually only the second-most-watched show of the evening, being trumped by its predecessor in the schedule, dance competition Strictly Come Dancing, which had 7.67 million live viewers.
These initial figures don’t incorporate people who watched the show within a certain time frame after broadcast, either through TV recordings or through on-demand platforms like the BBC iPlayer, but they’re still a big increase on where Doctor Who has been recently. The prior episode, Jodie Whittaker’s swansong in “Power of the Doctor,” saw overnights of just 3.71 million, and “The Star Beast” also saw Doctor Who attain its highest audience appreciation index score, 84, since the season 10 climactic episode “World Enough and Time” in 2017.
While this is all very good, eagle-eyed viewers will note that, even as a non-finalized number, five million or so people is not that much compared to what Doctor Who was averaging a few years ago, and even moreso compared to when Tennant and Tate were last sharing screentime in the TARDIS. That is, of course, not really a comment on the quality of the show itself: times have changed, as all Doctor Who fans should be keenly aware of being into a show about time travel, and the rise of streaming now by and large makes live TV overnights much less important than they used to be, even if, globally, a lot of those streaming numbers have a long history of being intentionally obfuscated.
This is also now especially the case for Doctor Who worldwide, where the series is now exclusively streamed by Disney+ outside of the UK and Ireland. So far at least, the BBC’s blockbuster deal is seemingly paying off: Popverse reports that in most Disney+ markets around the world, “The Star Beast” is currently within the top five most-streamed programs on the service. Time will tell if Doctor Who maintains this momentum across the two remaining anniversary specials, and into the debut of Ncuti Gatwa’s new Doctor on Christmas Day, but given the overwhelmingly positive reaction so far, it seems like the show is in a better place with its audience than it has been for quite some time.
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